Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Corris Railway

A recently re-opened historic railway

The Railway Today

I am absolutely delighted to say this little railway is once again carrying passengers. A three quarter mile length of track from Corris to Maespoeth has been relaid and carried diesel hauled passenger trains since the summer of 2002, the first train running on June 3rd. This part of the line is located in the central part of the original railway. Currently passenger journeys both start and terminate at Corris, one way journeys are not available and the trip includes a visit to the Maespoeth engine shed with a guided tour of this 133 year old workshop and loco stabling facility.

Of course the Society are not content with their 3/4 mile section currently carrying passengers and are still at work with a project to open a 2.5 mile stretch of line to Tan-y-Coed.

The Corris winds through the countryside
Picture courtesy of Alf Oxford
No.4 enjoys a brief visit home
Picture courtesy of Mike Oxford

Although lacking any of the original locomotives (as you will see below) the society have built a replica of a Kerr Stuart Tattoo class locomotive, this handsome steam engine has been in service hauling passenger trains since 2005 and is similar to one of the original Corris machines. For a volunteer society to construct such a machine from scratch is a tremendous achievement and the society should be congratulated on joining the elite group of teams who have acheived this.

History and Origins

The Corris Railway began life (like so many other welsh minor railways) as a horse drawn tramway to carry slate from the quarries in the mountains to a transhipment point to water transport. The gauge chosen was the unusual one of 2'3". The line was sanctioned in 1858 to carry slate from the quarries at Corris and Aberllefenni, along the valley of the Afon Dulas, to the town of Machynlleth. From Machynlleth the line followed the Dovey Valley to the quay side at Derwenlas. Things changed dramatically In 1863 when the standard gauge line of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway reached Machynlleth, this proved much more attractive than water born transport resulting in the line to Derwenlas being closed in 1864.

Unusual overall roof at Corris station
© The Corris Railway Society

Following the closure of the shortlived Derwenlas section the layout was a Y shape with the main line from Machynleth dividing at Maespoeth with a branch reaching Upper Corris while the main line continued beyond Aberllefenni to serve the quarries in lying in this direction. Although the use of steam was authorised in 1864 laden trains were run down by gravity and empties returned behind a horse for many years after this date.

In 1878 the approach to managing the Corris changed radically with its acquisition by the Imperial Tramways Company (based in Bristol) who had the intention of turning it into a profitable public carrier. Three 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives were supplied by the Hughes Engine Company together with ten four wheeled passenger vehicles for the line. Work also started replacing the cast iron rails with steel ones, neccesary to carry the additional loads imposed by locomotives. Plans were changed when the act of parliament required to authorise passenger carrying was thrown out. Having determined to provide a passenger service the company substituted road vehicles from 1879 to 1883 when they finally got their act passed on 18th June.

And so at last, on 4th July1883, the life of the Corris as a passenger railway began with passenger services from Machynlleth to Corris. On 25 August 1887, after more track replacement work, the passenger trains ran through to Aberllefenni, making a total journey of 6.5 miles.

The primitive four wheeled passenger stock could not remain forever and by 1886 J.R. Dix was manager and He implemented a program of improvement which included the acquisition of a graceful bogie coach of unusual design with its entrance in the centre. The new coach was a great success although there was a delay before any other new stock was ordered as the enterprising and cost conscious management took to reconditioning two four wheeler bodies on a single bogie underframe to improve there stock.

During the last decade of the century the locomotives must have been showing their age and were sent, one by one, to their makers at Loughbrough where they were overhauled and upgraded to 0-4-2s with larger cabs fitted over the new pair of trailing wheels. After the first war the locomotives were again in a poor state and a new machine was acquired from Kerr Stuart, although not officially a Tattoo class she was similar to this standard type and is known to this day as 'the Tattoo', this was the last major locomotive development on the Corris Railway. After closure of the Corris the two surviving locomotives were purchased by the preserved Talyllyn Railway. A double edged sword for Corris fans as they are no longer available for the restored Corris, on the other hand had they remained where they were they would probably have been cut up for scrap. They can now be seen in service on the Talyllyn Railway renamed Edward Thomas and Sir Haydn.

One of the unusual aspects of the Corris Railway was it's involvement in road transport. Although the trend was started by a third party the company found that to maintain the passenger business on the railway road connections were required and in time they found they were making as much or more profit from the road business as the railway itself. Particularly interesting was the round trip made possible taking in the Talyllyn, and Corris Railways.

During the early 1900s their was much talk of extending the line to meet the Talyllyn at Abergynolwyn, a move which could have been of great benefit to both lines and would finally have taken the Talyllyn to the lake from which it takes it's name! This would have been an expensive line to engineer with a long tunnel under the Upper Corris Pass and was probably never a realistic proposition although the gauges of the two lines were the same.

In 1929 the GWR acquired the Corris Railway, breaking up the road transport business in the process. Deprived of the revenue from road transport there was sadly only one likely fate for the line and, in 1931 passenger services ceased. It is remarkable that freight services continued until the River Dovey, swollen with water rushing down off the mountains, damaged one of the bridges. This was never repaired and the last train ran on 20 August 1948.

In 1966 the Corris Railway Preservation Society was formed by some members of the equivalent Talyllyn organisation, to preserve what was left with a view to restoration at some time in the future. The museum at Corris was opened in 1970 and track laying started soon after. In 1985 the society ran the first train since 1948 thirty seven years before. The first passengers were carried in 2002 opening a new and successful chapter in the history of the Railway.

Comments on this Railway

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Nick Nash   15 Sep 2013
You might want to add more, like the fact that they have a new Tatoo Class running the line as the main passenger loco and that they are making a modern version of Corris No. 3 and the Clearestory Coaches.
Howard   11 Mar 2012
I've seen a few photos from the war years (and after) clearly showing that 'lifts' were given to people in the guards van - seemingly quite unofficially. To the best of my knowledge the six surviving serviceable carriages were removed to Oswestry works shortly after the cessation of passenger working. Legend has it that the sides of these formed a partition inside the works.
j hutch   31 Jan 2012
I remember riding as a passenger during the second world war, 1940 to 1943 I was evacuated to Upper Corris. Your text indicated the passenger service stopped in 1931. Did they open the passenger service during the war?

I wasn't aware that they did but clearly it's entirely possible, maybe someone else who knows a little more can tell us.
Michael Huber   22 Aug 2011
This is well out of date. A lot has happened since and the railway goes from strength to strength.

Thanks for pointing out the progress, it's great news. I'm happy to say I've now brought the page up to date, hopefully there will soon be even more progress to report.
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